May 4, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

What kids absorb from their childhoods

Cynthia Dewes One of our sons and a grandson dropped in for a couple of days while they were in the area visiting prospective colleges.

We had dinner for them and another son and his family who live nearby, and enjoyed some favorite foods and reminiscences, laughing a lot and reinforcing the love we all share.

After the visitors left early on their last day, I felt the usual letdown. No matter how old they are or how old I get, I cry when my children leave. I guess it’s genetic because my mom did the same thing.

At any rate, when I pulled myself together and went around the house straightening up, I discovered something that made me cry all over again. My son had made his bed. Neatly.

Now, that may not sound like much, but it meant something special to me. When they lived at home, my kids were expected to make their beds reasonably well every day. This was for my comfort level, not theirs; it was just a given. But now, many years later, here was this

48-year-old man pleasing his mom by thoughtfully making his bed. It got to me.

When they leave home, you wonder what residual values, attitudes and customs your kids will take from their experiences as children. It warmed my heart to see my son’s bed, not because he’d made it, but because he knew I would like it.

Our oldest son instituted our old “popcorn party” custom when his children were small. Every Sunday evening, freshly bathed and dressed in their ‘jamies, the kids would take their seats in front of the television set to watch the Walt Disney show and eat special snacks.

Back in the day, if we were pretty solvent that week, the snacks would be soda pop and potato chips. This was a big deal because our kids never got to drink pop otherwise. If it was a lean week, they settled for popcorn and

Kool-Aid, but either way they thought it was a special occasion.

Yet another son (we were blessed with several of them) is involved today in home building and renovation. He says it’s because we used to drag him and the other kids around to “look at historic houses” almost every Sunday and wherever we were on vacation.

Speculating on how it would be to live in this or that house was fun and cheap entertainment for the entire family. Our oldest son adopted this custom also, taking his family to realtors’ open houses on weekends. He said his children would run from room to room, exclaiming, “I get dibs on this room!”

Not to be outdone in reliving her childhood, our daughter taught her children to play with toys like blocks and mom’s castoffs for dress-up clothes. She took them to see museums and art fairs as she’d been taken, taught them “eensy weensy spider” and show them how to blow bubbles.

We always hope and pray that our children will carry forward the moral values and practices we think are important, along with the fun customs and events they remember fondly from childhood.

They may not seem terribly important at the time, but I think those little popcorn parties and show house visits can add up to stability. They become part of the way kids learn to be morally responsible adults, spouses, parents and seekers of a good God’s will.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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